Erasing gay characters in Fantastic Beasts is one of the many Crimes of Grindelwald

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Harry Potter director David Yates has confirmed that the sexuality of fan favourite character Dumbledore won’t be addressed in the new Fantastic Beasts film, The Crimes of Grindelwald. And fans aren’t happy.

Remember a decade ago, when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had been published, and for a time we all thought the story of the boy wizard and his schoolmates was over? Remember how author JK Rowling caused a stir by revealing that Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts headmaster and beloved mentor to our hero, was actually gay all along? The way Rowling told it, as a young man, Dumbledore fell head over heels in love with fellow wizard Grindelwald, an important figure in the later books.

“How interesting,” many of us remarked. “It’s not mentioned a single time in the books, but sure, that will add an extra something if I ever reread the series.” And perhaps you never thought about it again, at least until the final few films in the Harry Potter series came out, and the studios opted not to include this new information.

Of course, the Potterverse is back on the silver screen these days, with the new prequel series Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, which follows the adventures of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne). The second film in this new series, The Crimes of Grindelwald, will prominently feature a young Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), and fill in some of the gaps about the events leading up to the Harry Potter timeline. However, in a recent interview, director Yates said that The Crimes of Grindelwald will “not explicitly” make any reference to either character being gay, justifying that decision by saying “I think the fans are all aware of that.”

Today is the first day of LGBT History Month in the UK, a pertinent moment to remind everyone that queer people have always struggled to find figures, both fictional and historical, to relate to. When every book, film, TV show and song seems to be created by and for straight people, a single offhand remark by an influential author like JK Rowling about Dumbledore takes on extra meaning. Here is a character loved by hordes of fans, a wise and kind man who helps shape the lives of countless young people — and he’s gay. He’s like us. Hermione’s intelligence, wit and resourcefulness were inspiring to girls who, at the time, didn’t have heroines like Katniss Everdeen in YA fiction — don’t gay fans deserve the same?

Representation matters. We don’t need to see Dumbledore staggering out of a dark room or dancing to Kylie (although that would be iconic), but to blithely disregard an aspect of his character which the creator has made canon is a huge missed opportunity, considering the vast influence of the franchise. Not to mention the disingenuousness of Yates’ explanation that the fans already know Dumbledore is gay, and so we don’t need to be shown that on screen. Why show the characters casting spells, in that case, as the fans are all very much aware that they’re wizards?

I maintain to this day that Rowling made the Dumbledore comments on a whim, and that in the years since she has been forced to contextualise her remarks, to point to the text and go “this is what I meant, sort of.” She has become known for an insistence on revealing new information about characters she stopped writing about years ago, a trait which delights some fans and drives others to distraction.

Of course, it is entirely within her right as the creator of this world to say whatever she likes — but it becomes irksome when Rowling’s willingness to queer a character turns to squeamishness once the possibility of a new film series arises. Presumably the studio fears that including a prominent gay storyline would alienate audiences (although somehow standing by the casting of alleged abuser Johnny Depp in the title role, despite the media traction of the #metoo and #timesup movements, is not something they deemed inappropriate).

Yates has told fans to “watch this space” in response to the question of whether future films will ever explicitly incorporate Dumbledore or Grindelwald’s relationship into the story, an answer which we can reasonably translate to “nah.” And that’s the problem with Yates’ comments, and the film’s erasure of any LGBT characters, and even Rowling’s original assertions about Dumbledore. If we have to take your word for it that there is a gay character in this film, then there is not a gay character in this film. You don’t get points for saying they “might” be, or for leaving any scenes to that effect on the cutting room floor. Be brave enough to include LGBT visibility in your film, or leave it alone entirely.

It’s the first rule of storytelling. Show. Don’t tell.

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